In 1995, brothers Albert and Allen Hughes followed their electrifying directorial debut “Menace II Society” with “Dead Presidents,” an ambitious crime film set in 1970s New York and filled with concrete political references to the shameful treatment of black veterans, who return to the USA after the Vietnam War. Albert returns to that era as director of the first and final episodes of Peacock’s “The Continental: From the World of John Wick,” a three-part prequel to the “John Wick” universe set in the 1970s in the New Yorker Hotel York City. The episodes showcase Hughes’ usual strengths, from a balletic interaction between blocking, music and camera movement to a bold, expressive color palette, but “The Continental” is a very different take on ’70s NYC than what Hughes did in “Dead.” Presidents “learned” – and that’s exactly how Hughes likes it.
“The wonderful thing about the ‘John Wick’ films is that they want nothing to do with race, politics or religion – nothing to stress you out about what’s going on outside the theater,” Hughes told IndieWire. “I love that about it and that’s why I had the time of my life.” Although Hughes initially thought about including specific cultural moments, like Ed Koch’s term as mayor or the Summer of Sam, he quickly realized that such concrete reference points were from the real world were an intervention. “This was never meant to be a real New York; It’s an impressionistic view of New York at the time.”
To create this impression, Hughes invented a style he called “disco noir,” in which he combined the lighting of film noir with the sense of liberation he associated with disco to create moody but vibrant images full of color and movement to create. “I’ve always loved disco and started researching why it was abolished in the late ’70s,” Hughes said. “It was very nefarious and had to do with queer culture, black culture and Latino culture.” When asked what disco means and how it shapes the imagery of “The Continental,” the director said: “Freedom, expression “, exuberance, a wild evening… Colors come to mind, extravagance comes to mind.” So they put these two words together, disco and noir, and for me it was an introduction to exploring the visual elements.”
Unsurprisingly, music plays a large role in conveying a sense of the period in The Continental, and it’s an eclectic mix that leans heavily on classic rock – another point of comparison and contrast to Dead Presidents “. Hughes, who is of mixed race, says the music on “Dead Presidents” belonged to his black father, but with “The Continental” he was able to honor his white mother’s influence. “The previous films I did with my brother were about the black culture we know and love, and that was fantastic,” Hughes said. “Here I’m looking forward to exploring my mother’s music that I listened to at home: rock and punk and Pink Floyd, my favorite band.”
The 46 pinpricks featured in the series are one way “The Continental” differs from the techno-toned, contemporary “John Wick” films, although Hughes didn’t want to stray too far from the films in one important way. “[‘Continental’ action director] “Larnell Stovall comes from 87eleven and the world of Chad Stahelski,” Hughes said, referring to the stunt team and director behind all of the “John Wick” theatrical stories. “His entire team inherently knows what’s in the DNA of these films.” Create intricately choreographed action sequences in which the fighting methods are specific to each character – and say something around These characters – was one of the joys of working with Stovall and showrunner Kirk Ward.
“My brother and I didn’t have that kind of help,” Hughes said. “We were overwhelmed and still have scars from it. These old school stunt guys would never show you anything – they put a bunch of GI Joes on a table and that was it. This new school comes with “stunt visualizations” where they record it with a camera and show you what it looks like and you make adjustments. You give them an environment and they start to use the environment as part of the character. Larnell was the first to tell me and Kirk that if a character had a dojo, they would have a certain style; Someone else who comes from Vietnam and has no martial arts training would fight differently. We said, ‘Oh my God, this is what happens when you make movies, you hire a professional and you can sleep at night.'”
After 30 years of directing films, Hughes remains as passionate and inspired as ever, although he uses his influences in a slightly different way than he did on “Menace II Society” and “Dead Presidents” and by paying conscious tribute to certain films . “What I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is that I draw from things, but I don’t always know where they come from,” Hughes said. “A week later I’m watching an old movie and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s where I got that.’ And it could be a comedy. The filter in me is not snobbish. I can be influenced by a cartoon or a dog food commercial or, I hate to say it, even a silly TikTok video. It can be texture influences, color influences, framing influences, and they all come from different places rolled into one.”
All three episodes of The Continental: From the World of John Wick are streaming on Peacock.